Exhibition: Isa Leshko’s “Thrills & Chills” at Houston Arts Alliance

December 23rd, 2010

Point Pleasant, NJ #1, 2006 © Isa Leshko

The image above by Isa Leshko from her “Thrills & Chills” series reminds me of the image by Robert Adams that begins his revised and expanded edition of “Summer Nights, Walking.” I originally saw Adams’ image in the exhibition “In the Darkroom” at the National Gallery of Art and sought out his book just for that one image. I had hoped for more of the same, but for those who know this series, the amusement ride image seems an outlier. For Leshko, though, these rides are the focus.

Isa Leshko’s solo exhibition “Thrills & Chills” is currently on view at the Houston Arts Alliance, co-organized by the Houston Center for Photography and the John Cleary Gallery, and includes twenty-one prints from the series. The exhibition runs through December 31, 2010. space125gallery, 3201 Allen Parkway, Houston, TX 77019

courtesy of the Houston Arts Alliance

About this work Leshko writes, “[a]musement park rides terrify me, which is why I began photographing them. I am fascinated by what compels people to surrender themselves to these mechanical beasts. The rides seem to challenge the very limitations of being human. We can’t fly; yet these vertigo-inducing machines allow us to soar through the open air. The experience combines elation with fear; thrills with chills.

These images explore the fantastic and sinister place these rides hold in my imagination. With some of these images, I suspend disbelief and embrace the underlying fantasies of these rides. With other images, I examine the tensions that exist between fantasy and reality. I am interested in exploring the range of emotions—from anger to shock to exultation—that people exhibit in pursuit of the amusement these rides are supposed to provide.”

Coaster at Dusk, Hershey Park, PA 2008 © Isa Leshko

To see more work from “Thrills & Chills” visit Leshko’s website as well as the John Cleary Gallery. There is also a collectible little limited edition book available of this work.

Exhibition: In the Darkroom / NGA

February 17th, 2010

Robert Adams

©Robert Adams

In the Darkroom: Photographic Processes Before the Digital Age
Co-curated by Sarah Kennel and Diane Waggoner
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
October 25, 2009 – March 14, 2010

Podcast interview with curator Sarah Kennel.

This is a must-see show. I have to admit that I spent most of my time reading the wall labels and text, but learned more from this exhibition than any history of photography class I ever took. It wasn’t until the second view of the exhibition that I was able to also focus on the subject matter of the photographs rather than just comparing and contrasting technique and process.

This is the way to learn about photographic processes. Co-curators Sarah Kennel and Diane Waggoner have concisely organized a chronological look at the different photographic techniques employed throughout the history of photography up until the digital age. Drawing from the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Art the exhibition includes examples of photogenic drawings, tintypes, daguerrotypes, ambrotypes, collodion negatives, paper negatives, waxed paper negatives, gum dichromate over platinum prints, gum dichromate prints, palladium prints, bromoil transfer prints, platinum prints, carbon prints, salted paper prints, albumen prints, books that compare photogravure reproductions and offset lithography for printing photography books, Polaroids, dye transfer prints, and chromogenic color prints from some of the most well-known practitioners of the medium. I haven’t even named all the processes included in the exhibition. Can anyone explain a Woodburytype?

©William Henry Fox Talbot

©William Henry Fox Talbot

There are many gems in the exhibition. On view are two delicate and beautiful pieces by Henry Fox Talbot; “Lace,” a photogenic drawing, and “Oak Tree,” a salted paper print. There are four photographs of Alfred Stieglitz’s “The Terminal,” printed as a carbon print, two silver gelatin prints, and a photogravure, that reveal his photographic thoughts in playing with composition (through cropping the printed image) and in utilizing different printing processes.

The Terminal ©Alfred Stieglitz

The Terminal ©Alfred Stieglitz

I loved the gelatin silver print of “Summer Nights # 2” (see first photo of this post) by Robert Adams and Edward Steichen’s “Cover Design,” as a duotone. Ansel Adams is featured with two prints of “Monolith, The Face of Half Dome;” one printed in 1927 that is soft and delicate in tone, and the other printed in 1980 that is larger in size, of high contrast, and very dramatic, the printing style most associated with Ansel Adams. Richard Misrach’s “Dead Fish, Salton Sea, California” is included as an example of a chromogenic color print, also know as a traditional c-print, as well as Saul Leiter’s “Snow.” And homage is paid to the Polaroid, with a few examples of this no-longer produced film, such as a manipulated SX-70, and a 20”x24” Polaroid transfer.

Snow ©Saul Leiter

Snow ©Saul Leiter

I am already re-viewing the exhibition a third time, through the accompanying must-have catalog In the Darkroom: An Illustrated Guide to Photographic Processes before the Digital Age. It is an extremely useful reference for the breakdown and explanation of each photographic process.

UPDATE: There will be a free lecture with Sarah Kennel on Sunday, March 14 at 2pm at the National Gallery of Art, East Building Concourse Auditorium. A book signing will follow.

Scurlock Studio at NMAH

December 10th, 2009

© Scurlock Studio

© Scurlock Studio

The Scurlock Studio and Black Washington: Picturing the Promise
National Museum of African American History and Culture Gallery, National Museum of American History
Washington, DC
January 30, 2009–February 28, 2010

Washington D.C. can be seen as the nexus for national and international politics, art, and culture, but it also has its own local history often overshadowed by this larger stage. On view at the National Museum of American History is the outstanding exhibition “the Scurlock Studio and Black Washington: Picturing the Promise” that presents a piece of African American history in the nation’s capitol as seen through the photographic lens of Addison Scurlock and his two sons, George and Robert. The Scurlock Studio, throughout most of the 20th century, captured a vibrant and thriving African American community on U Street and its surrounding neighborhoods and created portraits that represented a proud and positive self-image, described in one caption as “urban, urbane, and modern.” The exhibition features over 100 mostly black-and-white photographs by the Scurlock Studio, along with memorabilia from their business, the longest-running black business in Washington – started in 1911 and closed in 1994. There are photographs of families, weddings, meetings, graduations, and businesses; portraits of the working class, middle class, and elite; photographs capturing life at Howard University; and images of W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, Muhammad Ali, and Duke Ellington.

To quote from the exhibition, co-curated by Michelle Delaney, Associate Curator of the Photographic History Collection at the National Museum of American History, and Paul Gardullo of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, “[t]he Scurlocks depicted the complex world of African Americans in Washington, D.C., a city whose black middle class refused to be defined or held captive by racial segregation and discrimination.” Looking at the photographs, it is possible to forget that during the time the photographs were taken, segregation was in effect and imposed a racial divide in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere across the United States. The only hints at this history are the photographs of a man protesting outside People’s Drugstore to boycott businesses that did not hire black workers in black neighborhoods, the concert of Marian Anderson on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to a mixed crowd of over 75,000 instead of at Constitution Hall because of the color of her skin, the March on Washington, and in the sequence of images taken of the 1968 riots – photographs of fires and of U.S. Army Jeeps with armed soldiers patrolling U Street – just outside their studio window.

When the new National Museum of African American History and Culture opens along the national Mall in 2015, as the 19th Smithsonian Institution museum, the Scurlock Studio photographs should become a permanent exhibit there. As Arkansas has Disfarmer and Mali has Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé, Washington, D.C. has the Scurlocks, a photographic family team that created a lasting historical record of everyday African American life in the nation’s capitol with exquisite technique and sensibility.

Explore the Scurlock Studio Collection at the National Museum of American History online. Also available is the exhibition catalog, The Scurlock Studio and Black Washington: Picturing the Promise, produced by Smithsonian Books.Scurlock Book

Originally published in ArtVoices Magazine, November 2009.

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